Students are dropped off at school ahead of their first day of classes in Pickering, Ont., Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Thousands of students return to schools as new COVID-19 cases emerge

Experts say returning to class is important for children’s social and academic development

Thousands more students returned to class under new pandemic precautions Tuesday, as public health officials in Ottawa said they were assessing the risk to 200 students and staff linked to a handful of cases.

The staggered start opened doors to elementary and high school students in six provinces where a host of COVID-19 protocols have reimagined everything from seating to lunch breaks to the playground.

But the reopening came with news of cases at five French-language Catholic schools in Ottawa, where some students returned earlier this month.

Ottawa public health says people connected to four elementary schools and one high school tested positive after catching the virus outside of the school setting. They say 193 students and seven staff members were told late Monday night to stay home.

The cases emerge as Premier Doug Ford’s government continues to face criticism over its back-to-school plan, especially class sizes.

However, Ontario is among the provinces offering a mix of in-person classes and online learning for students who opt to stay home.

In some provinces, remote learning is limited to those with medical conditions.

ALSO READ: Lots to learn in COVID-19 orientation week for B.C. schools

Ontario’s education minister says he understands students, parents and teachers are concerned about the reopening.

Experts say returning to class is important for children’s social and academic development.

“If we continue to follow public health advice … I do believe that students can return to a safe and positive environment,” Stephen Lecce said in an interview.

Ontario’s four major teachers’ unions have appealed to the province’s labour board alleging the school reopening plan violates workplace safety laws.

Other boards in Ontario have delayed their restart over the next two weeks, with the country’s largest, the Toronto District School Board, set to begin a staggered opening next Tuesday.

Class also resumed in Manitoba and Saskatchewan with officials discouraging students from venturing outside cohort groups to minimize contact with others.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Education Minister Tom Osborne says the majority of $13 million in federal school funding has gone to address busing.

Osborne says $10 to $11 million will go towards contracting additional bus services to allow for more space between students travelling to school.

The Canadian Press

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